RTM means "release to mob" for Vista SP1

There's a downside for Microsoft in being more open, says Tom Yager

I've learned in recent days that my perceived paucity of Vista in the wild may be impaired vision (of the ocular variety) on my part. The merest whisper of the impending delivery of the first Service Pack for Vista kicked off a public rending of garments the likes of which I've not seen. Granted, Vista Service Pack 1 saves you the headache of downloading dozens of individual Vista hot fixes, and Microsoft sweetens the lot with feature and performance tweaks, but I wouldn't say it's the Second Coming. I am too mystified by the public reaction to Vista Service Pack 1, and Microsoft's reaction to that reaction, to do accurate reportage on the details. Here's what I do know: Microsoft announced that the RTM (release to manufacturing) of Vista Service Pack 1 will take place in March. This I like. New Vista systems shipped from manufacturers and discs supplied to developers and volume licencees will include the Service Pack. Rolling up fixes means that new Vista users will get one big download from Windows Update instead of dozens of little ones, and there won't be any wondering about whether you've received all the critical fixes. For corporate fleets, IT typically makes sure that accumulated hot fixes are either folded into the system image that IT uses to initialise new clients, or they're pushed out from centralized management servers. But for the rest of us, a Service Pack is a major convenience. And it's free. It's not like you'd turn it down, but you wouldn't trample your grandmother to be first to get it. The moment that Microsoft dropped a hint that a Service Pack for Vista was coming, anticipation created a buzz more deafening than that generated by Vista's release. Erstwhile leaks of Vista SP1 surfaced and were quickly put down but not before they had been dissected, screenshot, and "reviewed". For reasons that I cannot fathom, Microsoft apparently offered a release candidate of SP1 (a beta of a roll-up of patches?), and it's said that Microsoft seeded discs among favored bloggers and media outlets. The have-nots seethed as the haves boasted, and I imagine that many of my readers, like me, were too distracted by a mix of real work and real news to take notice. Joining this party late gives me the benefit of a simpler perspective. I see this as a sequence of three events that spins a tale more cautionary than amusing. Microsoft engaged the community, as is now its laudable practice to do, on the engineering of Vista Service Pack 1. Those who had been so engaged, and others who wished they had, interpreted Microsoft's announcement of the March RTM as a signal that the software was ready, and everyone had their own rationale for first place in line. The kicker is that shortly after Microsoft told the impatient rabble to wait it out, and that there were still some device compatibility issues to iron out, Microsoft sheepishly and apologetically put Vista SP1 out for public download well in advance of the RTM. Release to manufacturing became release to mob. Microsoft has discovered the dark side of making process and engineering transparent to the public. I've praised Microsoft's trend- setting model of community engagement in new engineering efforts. The company's responsiveness to public feedback, gathered in part through unfettered employee blogs open to comments, shows in Visual Studio and Windows Server 2008. But as I said, the idea can be taken too far, and I think that's what has happened with Vista SP1. Some work at Microsoft needs to take place behind closed doors. Giving everybody a visitor's badge to the Redmond campus makes great PR and exciting give-and-take but not always great strategy. SP1 turned into a case of take-and- take. Making sure that those who complained the loudest got SP1 first perhaps became more important than making room for those precious final builds, that last proofing of the documentation, that one device or chip set driver that was just a day away. We can't know what got sliced out when the klaxon went off and the Vista team had to do a hasty upload of the code to Akamai. If Microsoft did make a gift of early SP1 access to those it favours, perhaps under what it understood was non-disclosure, it may understand now that this approach to marketing and relationship building creates more liabilities than benefits. It's a lesson that Microsoft has had the opportunity to learn before. Whether or not Microsoft brought this on itself, it's clear that what good there is in Vista SP1 has been buried by bad press. I'm content to wait until March, and I believe that those who plan to put SP1 in production will likewise wait until it reaches them. As one Microsoft blogger points out, Vista without SP1 is still Vista. SP1 doesn't make it a new OS, and if you've let Windows Update auto-install your critical fixes, you're missing out on very little. What should Microsoft brace for next? A tidal wave of moaning from the entitled over the absence of their pet fixes and features. Work should already be under way for Vista Service Pack 2, where we're more likely to see what cooler heads had in mind for SP1. I only hope that Microsoft lets its engineers, not the blogosphere, decide when SP2 is ready to ship. I'll say it again: Perhaps there are some projects that don't need a blog.

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